There was no better time to be a basketball fan than the ‘90s. Oh sure, the ‘80s were fantastic and the modern era isn’t too bad either, but professional basketball was never better than it was during the ‘90s. The Bulls may have run the show, but a host of teams were constantly nipping at their heels in pursuit of the ultimate prize. Besides, the greatness of the ‘90s had more to do with the quality of the individual players than it did the teams in contention. No other decade sported the same quality of overall player talent.
While that was a great thing, it does come with a downside. All these years later, some of the greatest pieces of talent in the ‘90s have fallen to the wayside. It almost seems impossible that these great NBA talents could ever be forgotten, but there’s only so much room in the mind of the average NBA fan for remembering the greats and there’s sometimes just not enough space for them all. Still, that doesn’t mean that these players should be completely forgotten. Instead, take a trip down memory lane by looking at the top 15 NBA players from the ’90s you probably don’t remember.
15. John Starks
John Starks was drafted by the Golden State Warriors who, quite honestly, never really had any intentions of playing him at shooting guard considering that they had drafted another shooting guard still to appear on this list at the no.5 spot that same year. He was eventually picked up by the New York Knicks who were going to release him when he twisted his knee in practice trying to dunk on Patrick Ewing, but a technicality prevented them from doing so.
Starks ended up becoming a major performer for the Knicks and one of the absolute best point guards they ever had. He is best remembered for his infamous dunk over Horace Grant and Michael Jordan, during the 1993 Eastern Conference finals and was an all-around incredible talent.
14. Latrell Sprewell
Latrell Sprewell had an interesting NBA career to say the least. He too started life on the Golden State Warriors where he quickly made a name for himself as one of the most exciting players in the league. He ended his rookie year with a 15.4 PPG average and would only improve from there until he eventually scored 24.2 PPG during the 1996-97 season. The kid was a bonafide superstar whose career was derailed in 1997 when he attacked head coach P.J. Carlesimo during a practice session.
Despite that incident, the New York Knicks signed him in the hopes of assembling something of a super team on a budget. Sprewell played fairly well for New York, but he was never again able to equal the brilliance of his initial seasons.
13. Mookie Blaylock
You would think that people would remember Daron Oshay “Mookie” Blaylock based on the strength of this nickname alone, but somehow this former 12th overall pick from the 1989 NBA Draft has managed to become a forgotten name. Mookie is a victim of a prejudice against defensive basketball players when it comes to remembering great talents. It’s the only way you could ever explain how a man that managed to record over 200 steals in a single season five times during the course of his NBA career isn’t a household name alongside other stars of the era.
Mookie was not slouch on offense (he was a particularly good three-point shooter, actually) but the man was an inhuman asset on the defensive side of the court.
12. Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson ended his college career at the University of California the school’s all-time leader in steals, assists, and scoring. Those records have since been broken, but they still go to show that Johnson was a one of a kind type talent. In fact, he was the first member of the University of California basketball team to have his jersey number retired. Much like Bo Jackson, he was also a pretty accomplished baseball player. His NBA career was even better as he quickly became one of the best point guards in the league. Some even called him the next Magic Johnson.
Despite a career filled with records, accolades, and incredible performances, late injuries would hinder the efforts of Johnson and, perhaps, lead to his somewhat muted legacy.
11. Robert Pack
Robert Pack was not a highly touted draft pick. In fact, he was not a draft pick at all. He had a respectable career at USC, but not so great of a career that any NBA team felt the need to actually draft him. Instead, he was picked up by the Portland Trail Blazers in 1991. That same year, he helped the Trail Blazers reach the NBA Finals where the team lost to the Bulls. He was traded to the Nuggets in 1993 and thrived alongside teammates such as Dikembe Mutombo. Pack also contributed to the Nuggets, but was again traded to the Bullets where he also excelled.
In case you’re not picking up on the theme here, Pack was a great player who just never seemed to be able to stick to a single team long enough to become a star.
10. Chris Mullin
Chris Mullin was destined to be a basketball star. He was named New York’s “Mr. Basketball” during his high school days and was recruited to St. John’s University. He was named the Big East Player of the Year three times, was on the 1984 gold medal Olympic team, and averaged 19.5 points per game. It’s no surprise that Chris Mullin was drafted 7th overall and, at this point, it should be no surprise that he was drafted by the Golden State Warriors who seem to have a franchise reputation for drafting talent destined to be forgotten. Mullin has been described as something of a low-rent Larry Bird, which still makes him an all-time great player, but does help to describe how he has fallen off the radar.
9. Glen Rice
If you look at Michigan’s all-time basketball records list, you’ll find that Glen Rice leads in career points, single season points, single season field goals, and single season three-point percentage. He won an NCAA championship and ended up going 4th overall in the 1989 NBA Draft. He became one of the first stars the Miami Heat ever knew and did a pretty good job putting up points for the team, but was unfortunately saddled with an overall weak roster that didn’t offer much help.
Rice continued to perform well, but wouldn’t find post-season success until he joined the Lakers’ super team during the 1999 season. Rice just couldn’t translate personal success into team success early in his career while his later years saw him overshadowed by greater talent.
8. Detlef Schrempf
It’s a shame that Detlef Schrempf might have been entirely forgotten by a young generation if it wasn’t for his memorable appearance on the show Parks and Recreation. What Schrempf should be remembered for is his outstanding college play as a member of the Washington Huskies where he helped the team reach the Sweet 16 in 1984.
Schrempf was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in 1985 and would waste a few years the league before winning back to back Sixth Man Awards in 1991 and 1992. He was the guy that teams started to rely on not to carry a squad, but to help the team that was missing that little something find the edge they need to go over the top. Playing that role, it’s not hard to see why he’s been forgotten.
7. Cliff Robinson
Cliff Robinson in his prime was like the kind of basketball player you’d build in a video game if you had unlimited stats to work with. Oh sure, he wasn’t that hyped coming out of college (he was taken in the second round of the 1989 draft), but the kid established himself as a real threat on the Trail Blazers. Portland made the playoffs every year that Robinson was a member of the team. That probably had something to do Robinson’s ability to work as both a big man and a three point shooter. If Robinson’s glory years had lasted just a little longer, he probably would be held in the top tier of NBA legends. As it stands, he’s still a Hall of Fame worthy talent.
6. Larry Johnson
Larry Johnson was a different kind of basketball player. Well, different from players now, at least. In an era where players could have a reputation for being tough and forceful without that necessarily being a bad thing, Larry Johnson was one of the toughest of them all. He was a power forward who used his time at UNLV to let the world know that he was one guy who knew how to enforce his will on an opposing squad no matter who they were. Johnson went on to be taken 1st overall in the 1991 NBA Draft and even won Rookie of the Year. Just a couple of years into his NBA career, however, Johnson suffered a serious injury that pretty much meant the end of his prime.
5. Mitch Richmond
Mitch Richmond so happens to be the player that the Golden State Warriors drafted the same year as John Starks. It’s not hard to see why they opted to focus on Richmond above Starks given that the man was a college basketball legend who also so happened to find success in the NBA early on en route to a 1998-89 rookie of the year award. Despite averaging 22 points a game or more during three years as a Golden State Warrior, Richmond was traded to the Sacramento Kings in 1991 where he immediately became a star once more. So why isn’t Richmond remembered more fondly? That probably has something to do with his lack of success in the postseason with the exception of a late NBA Championship win with the Lakers.
4. Horace Grant
Horace Grant was always the other guy. Even when he was drafted 10th overall in the 1987 NBA Draft, Grant found himself on an NBA team that just so happened to have Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen on it. He immediately let the world know that he was one of the best defensive players in the league and helped the Bulls win three championships. After a career year, Grant went to the Orlando Magic in a major free agency move but was never able to replicate his early career success.
When Grant is remembered, it’s usually as a member of one of the all-time elite NBA squads. That’s not a bad legacy at all, but Grant should be remembered just as fondly as the always referenced Dennis Rodman.
3. Grant Hill
On the one hand, a fair number of fans do remember the name Grant Hill. He was the guy with famous athlete parents who was a star at Duke where he won the 1994 ACC Player of the Year and two NCAA championships. His NBA career started just as well as he was co-Rookie of the Year in 1995 and a seven-time all-star. Despite everything that Grant Hill did in his career, he never seems to come up as often as names like Jordon, O’Neal, Bryant, Ewing, and other greats of the era.
It’s difficult to say why that is, but it probably had something to do with the fact that Hill was always a step or two behind the best in the league in individual stats and also a step or two behind in terms of post-season success.
2. Sam Cassell
When Michael Jordan left the NBA to pursue his baseball interests, every NBA team felt like they could take advantage of the situation in order to finally live their own championship dreams. Only one team was proven right, though, and that was the Houston Rockets. Sam Cassell was a major reason that squad was able to be so successful as his all over the court style of play allowed him to be the perfect point guard for a dynamic roster. Cassell left the Rockets in 1996 when Houston thought that they were able to rebuild a team by trading valuable talent.
Cassell didn’t suffer from a personal performance perspective, but he wasn’t able to call himself a champion again until he joined the Boston Celtics in 2008.
1. Tim Hardaway
When you think ‘90s basketball stars with the last name of Hardaway, you tend to think of Penny Hardaway. That’s understandable given that Penny Hardaway was a big star and a great player. However, it’s Tim Hardaway that deserves to be a household name. Tim Hardaway had a very good career at the University of Texas at El Paso but, even though he was drafted in the first round of the 1989 NBA Draft, his small size and perceived inability to really take a game over meant that he didn’t attract a lot of hype.
He performed extremely well for the Golden State Warriors, but he really shined as a member of the Miami Heat where he became the heart and soul of the franchise.
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